|Bridging the social divide with technology and meeting the lost Jews of Iquitos|
|Written by Karen Pack, Special to The Chronicle|
|Wednesday, August 01 2012 10:59|
This past June, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel to attend the General Assembly and Board of Governors meetings of The Jewish Agency for Israel. As a representative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, I have the honor to sit on the Jewish Agency board of governors, which brings together leaders from our devoted Jewish family from around the world to discuss and create solutions to address the biggest challenges facing our Jewish community here in Kansas City, in Israel and around the world. The Jewish Agency for Israel is a primary overseas partner of the Jewish Federations, and it was inspiring to see the commitment of representatives from Jewish Federations, religious movements and various other institutions which form the board of governors — a round table of the “Jewish collective.”
During the four days of meetings, we visited several regions of Israel to see Jewish Agency programming firsthand. Many of these programs are supported by Jewish Federation funding, and it was thrilling that the Jewish Agency chose to highlight Ramla, our partner community, for one of the site visits. It exposed a larger audience of Jewish leaders to the difficulties largely immigrant communities face and the successes we help make possible through our support of The Jewish Agency.
Our group visited the Net@ program, supported by Kansas City Jewish Federation, and we heard wonderful stories about how this critical program bridges the “digital gap” that forms between Israelis on the socioeconomic periphery and those in more affluent communities. It also brings together youth from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze communities to share in learning valuable computer skills and performing community service work.
After our meeting with them, the Net@ kids then led us on a scavenger hunt through the city’s market. This was truly a marvelous experience on so many levels. The warmth we felt from these high school students, the kinship they share with one another, and the pride they have in their community proved — beyond any politics — that kids crave friendship and thrive on common goals regardless of religion or ethnicity. Kids just want to have fun, and they — along with a group of adults from three continents — had lots of it.
Another thrill was meeting a community of “lost Jews” from the town of Iquitos in the Amazon Jungle of Peru. This community descended from Jewish businessmen pursuing the rubber trade. As the rubber trade collapsed, the community deteriorated and was “lost” for several generations until a charismatic leader inspired them to formally reclaim their Jewish heritage — to which they still held. The community chose to make a new beginning in Israel, the land of their forefathers, and with the assistance of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Jewish Federation, more than 400 have now settled in Ramla with another 200 olim (immigrants) arriving this September.
These brave individuals have embraced the challenges of a new language, culture, job training and learning about Judaism — in many cases — for the first time. Their commitment to Judaism was inspiring, and I was proud that our Jewish Federation and The Jewish Agency for Israel have and will continue to support and assist the Iquitos community and all communities of immigrants in Israel. They, and their children, must be able to take their place as the next generation’s builders of the Jewish state.
I want to thank the Jewish community of Kansas City and the Jewish Federation for supporting The Jewish Agency for Israel as it continues to confront the central challenges of the Jewish people. And, as I think back to my meeting with the Jews from Peru — a meeting facilitated in Spanish, Hebrew and English — I can only think: “Welcome to Israel, where every Jew has a home.”